Friday, 6 December 2013

keynote address by MEC Chairman, Justice Maxon Mbendera SC

during the opening of a Conference on:
Malawi Before the 2014 Tripartite Elections: Actors, Issues, Prospects & Pitfalls An Analytical Stock take

Organised by Friedrich Ebert Stiftung and Institute for Policy Interaction

5-7 December, 2013

  • The Ambassador of the Republic of Germany in Malawi
  • Development Partners & Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
  • Mr. Marcus Schneider, Representative for Friedrich Ebert Stiftung,
  • Commissioner Mrs. Gloria Chingota
  • Prof. Dr. Christof Hartmann, University of Bochum, Germany
  • Prof. Lars Svasand, University of Bergen, Norway
  • Dr. Samson Lembani, Scientific and technical advisor to the conference
  • Chairperson of the Institute for Policy Interaction, Dr. Nandini Patel
  • Members of Parliament
  • Traditional Authorities
  • Leaders  of   Political Parties represented here
  • Members of the Civil Society
  • Members of the Press
  • All protocols observed
  • Ladies & Gentlemen.

Good morning.
I am very delighted, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, to make this keynote address at this important conference.  Important because as Chair of the Commission I take this as a complimentary role to the statutory function of the Commission in the delivery of credible elections.  I am very optimistic, the conference will go a long way in enhancing the preparations and delivery of the first ever tripartite elections in this country. The honest and patriotic discussions will assist the Commission in this endeavour.

Your Excellency, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,  the theme of this conference, ‘actors, issues, prospects and pitfalls’ in the context of the forthcoming 2014 tripartite elections, illustrates the integral elements of democratic elections in that it involves an interplay of various actors, forces – social, economic, political, and a complex web of issues, which have a direct bearing on the prospects for further consolidation of democracy and challenges or pitfalls which must be addressed to the maximum possible extent. The underlying objective is to recognise that political institutions set ‘the rules of the game’ and hence, to build adherence to the letter and spirit of those rules and ensure predictable and acceptable behavior among all stakeholders .   The code of conduct which was developed and subsequently signed is an example of the rules being referred to here.

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, in a conference of a similar nature held a few months ago, our former Vice President Dr. Justin Malewezi reminded us of why Malawians reject the sham elections that were held between 1964 and 1992. Indeed, many Malawians subsequently risked and lost their lives in the quest for free and fair elections. This is an important reminder for us not to forget where we started from and how far we have come while preparing for our fifth general and first tripartite elections, knowing that a society’s past is linked to the future through the legacies of its institutional makeup and practices.

You will agreed with me Your Excellency, Ladies and Gentlemen that elections have become an asset to a democracy if they institutionalize democratic culture and practice. Yet, they can also become a liability when they are twisted into a vehicle for institutionalizing and insulating autocracy. When do they become an asset? When they legitimize the political system and government, through the credible transfer of national trust to persons and parties, when they provide orderly succession of governments, when they facilitate selection and recruitment of leaders, when they provide space for social mobilization and political education and become a conduit for expression of expectations by the electorate, thereby influencing public policy.  Thus, elections enable peaceful competition for state power, by channelling political conflicts into clearly defined procedures for their peaceful settlement.

11.  Election Management bodies in the electoral process

Your Excellency, Ladies and Gentlemen, for any Electoral Management Body (EMB) to be credible and effective, sufficient and timely funding as well as human resources (election officials) who are impartial and independent must be made available. Administering democratic elections requires that EMBs be visibly impartial and independent of government, opposition or other influences. This is a critical area, as the election administration machinery makes and implements important decisions that can influence the outcome of the elections. The political circumstances of the particular country, in this case Malawi, need to be taken into account when assessing the legal framework regulating electoral management bodies.

The first strategic goal in the Strategic Plan of the Malawi Electoral Commission 2013 – 2017 is the Independence of MEC, which states ‘MEC strives for genuine administrative, political and financial autonomy whist maintaining public accountability.’ Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, MEC derives its independence from its status as a constitutional body created under Section 75 and Sections 76(4) of the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi. Section 6 of the Electoral Commission Act No. 11 of 1998 as amended confirms the independent model of the EMB. In order to realize this objective, the plan envisages public funding of MEC protected and predictable by the end of 2017. This is to be achieved by concerted steps as proposed in the strategic plan, hence the need for the support of you all.

Your Excellency, Ladies and Gentlemen, leveling the playing field is another strategic goal worth discussing in this conference. This basically entails ensuring the fairness of the electoral process and a number of key issues have been identified in this area:   Public media – which, in past elections, have tended to unfairly favour the party in power to the disadvantage of the other contesting parties.  MEC is working with MACRA to start media monitoring, media reports, and engage with media managers on election reporting. 

Let me also inform the conference that MEC is also collaborating with relevant stakeholders in organizing live presidential debates. Planning and preparations are underway for this. This is the first time such an initiative has been created in Malawi. This, as you will appreciate, is one way of ensuring that the contestants have an opportunity of reaching out to the masses and also to enable the public access the policies of the contestants in order to make informed decisions on the ballot.

Unregulated influence of Money: The playing field is also challenged by the unregulated influence of money in politics as there is, at this point in time, no legal framework governing election campaign financing in the country. However, serious debates have begun and in the last sitting of Parliament the issue generated much attention and time. Let us hope the momentum will be maintained, resulting in the formulation of appropriate law.

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, elections do not take place in a vacuum, hence the Enhancing Stakeholder relationship goal– This is a goal towards which MEC has made substantial progress in the run up to the 2014 tripartite elections. Though the concept of National Elections Consultative Forum (NECOF) is not new, these meetings were not held regularly during the past elections due to disruptions caused by protracted political differences and tensions. This time round however, NECOF meetings have taken place regularly with participation by over 100 delegates – we have held three of them thus far. To a significant extent, this is building mutual trust and confidence in the electoral process which is essential for stakeholder collaboration and maintenance of collective ownership of the electoral process among all actors.
Besides NECOF, MEC has been engaging with Civil Society and political parties in numerous foras provided by CSO bodies such as the Centre for Multi Party Democracy. Your Excellency, Ladies and Gentlemen, the views and concerns raised in these meetings have been seriously taken on board. A case  in point was the consideration that MEC gave to adopting the biometric system of voter registration. But, once the CSOs networks and other stakeholders raised their valid concerns on this system MEC promptly reversed the plan.

In addition, MEC has welcomed Civil Society proposals to run Parallel Vote Tally (PVT) during the forthcoming elections. This is clear evidence of our openness to proposals that will enhance the credibility of our election. However, as emphasized during the last NECOF meeting held on 29 November, 2013, the Commission endorsed the PVT proposal  in its truest sense where results from all polling stations will be tabulated and not a sampling tabulation of a few polling stations.  I hope this was made clear and I am only emphasizing that aspect.

111. Some specific steps towards the 2014 tripartite elections – Your Excellency, Ladies and Gentlemen, notwithstanding the unprecedented events that Malawi witnessed since 2009, there has been some progress made in the following specific areas:

1.      Harmonization of electoral laws - Immediately Parliament authorized the conduct of tripartite elections, there was a need for the harmonization of the Parliamentary and Presidential Elections Act no. 31 of 1993 as amended (PPEA) and the Local Government Elections Act no. 24 of 1996 (LGEA) in order to ensure a smooth conduct of elections.  The current budget sitting of Parliament (May-June 2013) has since passed the proposed amendments. However, not all proposed amendments were passed.

2.      Adoption of the Civic and voter education strategy. The Electoral Commission under Section 8(1)(j) of the Electoral Commission Act no.11 of 1998 is specifically required to promote public awareness of electoral matters through the media and other appropriate and effective means and to conduct civic and voter education on such matters. In order to effectively deliver its mandate on Civic and Voter Education (CVE) for the 2014 tripartite elections, the Commission developed a strategy to serve as a framework for coordinating the roles of the various CVE providers whilst ensuring gender parity, equality and equity in access to information and voter participation.

Your Excellency, Ladies and Gentlemen, MEC is aware of the challenges CSOs are facing in accessing funding for the CVE exercise n. The funding has been limited and delayed considering the demand on the ground and the fact that this will be the first tripartite elections to be held in Malawi. It is heartening that the situation is being addressed. MEC commends NICE for doing its best to effectively deliver its role in the given circumstances. MEC also appreciates the role of the National Democratic Institute (NDI) with funding from DfID and USAID for the assistance rendered in some areas of intervention.   

3.      Codes of conduct signed with Political Parties, media and Civil society. I am pleased to inform the conference that in order to ensure that the elections are happening on an even field and also encourage ownership, the Commission facilitated the development of codes of conduct for the political parties, the media and accredited civil society organizations. 
The codes provide accepted behavior and actions and also presents unaccepted behavior. 

Voter registration exercise. Ladies and Gentlemen, at the end of phase 8 of the registration which was on 1 December 2013, 6,756,528 eligible voters have been registered. Of these 3,640,417 are females and 3,116,111 males. The projection is 94.01% registration, which is over 15.87% increase from 2010 registration figures which have been set as the baseline.  This information can also be accessed on our website .

Your Excellency, Ladies and Gentlemen, MEC has tried to take prompt remedial action for any reported anomaly or shortfall in the registration process. For instance, where it was reported that in a couple of centres during phase 1 and 2, eligible voters could not register due to logistical and administrative hiccups, those centres were re-opened to enable those voters to register.  This has also continued in the subsequent phases where automatic extensions are done on the following day if people are still on the queue during closing time.  In addition, immediately after end of the phase, centres that were not functional for the statutory period continue to operate for equivalent of the number of lost days.  

Your Excellency, Ladies and Gentlemen, preparations are underway for the candidate nomination process for all the three elections.  The Commission will brief Returning Officers on the nomination process from 5 to 15 January 2013 and nomination forms will be available for collection to all aspiring candidates from 16 January to 14 February 2013 for collection.  Aspiring candidates for Parliamentary and Local Government Elections will present their nominations at the Council Headquarters whereas Presidential candidates will present their nomination papers to the Commission.  The presentations will be done from 10 to 14 February 2013 and nomination fees are as follows:-

(a)               Candidates for Presidential Elections:
(b)               Candidates for Member of Parliament Elections:
K200,000.00 for male candidates
K150,000.00 for female candidates
(c)                Candidates for Local Government Elections:
K20,000.00 for male candidates
K15,000.00 for female candidates
Let me mention here that the nomination deposit for parliamentary and presidential candidates is refundable upon the candidate getting 5% or more of the total valid votes cast while nomination deposit for the candidates for Ward Councillor is non-refundable.

IV. Issues for the future

Electoral System Debate- Since 1966, the Malawian National Assembly has been constituted using a ‘first-past-the-post’ (FPTP) plurality electoral system based on the Westminster model- a system inherited from elections held in the colony of Nyasaland, and the Central African Federation administered by Great Britain. The choice of electoral system was never fully considered nor broadly debated so that the consequences of the choice or negation of choice recognized. Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, the electoral system question was not touched upon in the transition negotiations between the MCP government and the UDF-AFORD led opposition, largely because of a consensus that this was not a priority issue and most party leaders expressed a desire to continue with the Westminster model.

However, today the electoral system issue needs attention. Because in the FPTP which is called the ‘winner takes all’ there are times when the loser who takes it all by winning the seat and losing the vote like in 2004 elections where the President won with 36% of votes.
Many discussions have ensued and studies have been conducted on this subject, and the Law Commission’s Constitutional Review Report also recommends the introduction of the principle of absolute majority for the winner with 50%+1 votes of the total vote cast. As work in progress, this will have to be taken up amongst other issues after the 2014 tripartite elections.

Conclusion - With such collaboration, I am sure 2014 tripartite elections in Malawi will surely be a step towards transparent and credible elections, which will set the stage for a viable, legitimate and strong government irrespective of the party that wins at central legislative and local governmental level. But we cannot do it alone. Let me remind you that these elections belong to all of us and it is therefore incumbent upon all of us to play our rightful roles during the process. Let us all own the elections, for they are ours!

Your Excellency, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, I thank you very much for your patience.

May the Almighty God bless our Nation

Thank you very much.


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